Challenger Tour Weekly Recap: Denis Kudla Wins the Most Stacked Challenger of the Year

Denis Kudla 2022 Australian Open
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With seventeen top 100 players in contention for the Arizona Tennis Classic in Phoenix, it seemed like one of the top-seeded players should be able to clean up that tournament. But instead, we got three alternates and one wildcard in the semifinals and they brought the viewers some extremely interesting clashes in the business end of the week. Hugo Dellien and Tomas Martin Etcheverry met again in the Concepcion final after battling for over three hours in the final four at Santiago. Meanwhile, 26-year-old Manuel Guinard clinched his maiden Challenger title at Roseto Degli Abruzzi. Read back on this week’s action:

Phoenix

At the Challenger level, Daniel Altmaier has turned into a real force on hard courts, reaching the final in three of his last four events. His main tour showings this year haven’t been great and while he needed a bit of time to get going, defeating Aleksandar Vukic in three sets, the German was quite fabulous ever since. The greatest win was undoubtedly the upset over Emil Ruusuvuori, who at that point seemed to be among the main favorites for the tournament.

Denis Kudla‘s run was a little bit more out of nowhere, although Phoenix was also his first appearance on the ATP Challenger Tour this year. The American took advantage of the fast hardcourt conditions and only got broken once on his way to the final (by Mitchell Krueger in the opening round). He eliminated Richard Gasquet at the last eight stage, before going on to beat the in-form J. J. Wolf in a third-set tie-breaker. Both Kudla and Altmaier entered the tournament as alternates, giving us a very rare final between two players who were accepted into the main draw in this way.

Altmaier made breaking Kudla’s serve seem easy in the opening set, defending very well from his backhand side, both on the topspin and the slice. One game completely turned the match around though – 6-2 2-2, the German had two break points to go up a set and a break. Kudla saved them both (one a serve-and-volley, one a 16-shot rally ending in a great backhand down-the-line) and reeled off seven straight games. He put a lot more pressure on Altmaier’s second serve and before the German would get back on the scoreboard, he created himself an advantage that his opponent eventually wouldn’t be able to make up for in time.

It’s Kudla’s 8th Challenger title, his first since Cary 2020. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Miami with Altmaier having a main draw entry, while Kudla will need to battle for it through the qualifying event.

Concepcion

Going for back-to-back titles can be very tough fitness-wise, but not if you dominate the field like Hugo Dellien did in Concepcion this week. The Bolivian dropped just eight games in seven completed sets and was also leading Paul Jubb 2-0 in the second when the Brit was forced to retire. That gave Dellien an utterly ridiculous 44-8 games win/loss record in his four matches leading into the final. The path included Tomas Barrios Vera, Thiago Tirante, and Daniel Dutra da Silva (the latter is much less threatening, but almost beat Dellien in January this year, this time only taking one game.

Tomas Martin Etcheverry played Dellien in an over three-hour-long semifinal in Santiago, but the amount of playtime they both got this week varied greatly. The Argentinian not only survived three-setters against Renzo Olivo and Diego Fernandez Flores, but also had to endure a marathon versus Camilo Ugo Carabelli, one that almost reached the four-hour mark. Etcheverry definitely benefitted from the increased match practice though as his forehand got seemingly more and more dangerous as the week progressed.

The two seemed on track for another classic until Dellien hit a really awful patch of play starting from 3-3 in the opening set. The Bolivian lost the next six games and while he was able to grab two more games in the second, it practically decided the outcome of the match. Despite barely spending time on the court the whole week compared to Etcheverry, he was the one looking more physically spent. The Argentinian’s backhand held up very well and he was hitting with superb pace and depth.

Etcheverry claimed his 3rd Challenger title and will now find himself just 52 points away from the top 100. As he’s not defending much until the end of May/June, the next few weeks are a wonderful opportunity for him to reach that milestone for the first time. Both finalists are scheduled to appear in Santa Cruz next week.

Roseto Degli Abruzzi

Chun-Hsin Tseng has taken a new step in his tennis career recently, starting to dominate at the Challenger level. While his ATP Tour showings are still subpar, the Taiwanese has now reached the final in four of his previous five appearances on the lower circuit. Tseng took out last week’s champion Carlos Taberner in the quarterfinals, before going on to survive a 3h thriller against Timofey Skatov in the final four.

Manuel Guinard had an even more dominant road to the championship match, dropping just 19 games and not losing a single set. The Frenchman eliminated the sixth seed, Nikola Milojevic, and Challenger Tour veterans Jozef Kovalik and Alessandro Giannessi. The 26-year-old made his second final at this level, having lost the previous one to Carlos Taberner at Aix en Provence last year.

While Guinard was a slight favorite coming into the final, the extent of his dominance came as a big surprise. The Frenchman lost his serve in the opening game of the match, before going on to win the next ten at the expense of Tseng. He was more than willing to keep the ball in play and forced his opponent to take the initiative, which often resulted in errors or simply did no damage to his defenses. Tseng’s serve also had practically no impact as the Taiwanese took just 39% of his 1st serve points and held only once in a 1-6 2-6 loss, lasting just 65 minutes.

Guinard’s maiden title will have him grab a career-high ranking of 161 on Monday. The Frenchman will play in Zadar next, while Tseng decided to withdraw from that tournament, hoping to be back in Marbella and Murcia in two weeks’ time.

Challenger Tour magic:

Events held next week:

  • Play In Challenger (Lille, Challenger 90, indoor hard)
  • Flowbank Challenger Biel/Bienne (Challenger 80, indoor hard)
  • Falkensteiner Punta Skala – Zadar Open (Challenger 80, clay)
  • Dove Men+Care Challenger Bolivia 2 (Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Challenger 80, clay)

Top 100 players in action:

  • Ricardas Berankis (Lille)
  • Hugo Dellien (Santa Cruz de la Sierra)

First-round matches to watch:

Lille

  • (7) Zizou Bergs vs Antoine Hoang
  • Mirza Basic vs (2) Quentin Halys

Biel

  • (1) Pierre-Hugues Herbert vs Borna Gojo
  • (4) Altug Celikbilek vs (WC) Leandro Riedi
  • Yuichi Sugita vs (3) Dominic Stricker
  • Antoine Escoffier vs (2) Dennis Novak

Zadar

  • (1) Gianluca Mager vs Duje Ajdukovic
  • (WC) Hamad Medjedovic vs (4) Zdenek Kolar
  • (6) Flavio Cobolli vs Nino Serdarusic

Santa Cruz

  • (4) Tomas Martin Etcheverry vs Gerald Melzer
  • Renzo Olivo vs (3) Juan Pablo Varillas
  • (6) Camilo Ugo Carabelli vs Santiago Fa Rodriguez Taverna

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